My inner sense of curiosity of ‘where I could go on two wheels’ now had me scoping out the local library and researching the internet. Cycling is one of life’s simple pleasures and I really wanted more of it…
In the pages of a well used A-Z London map book I spotted that there was a river that ran through Hackney. With my finger on the page I followed the weaving blue river to find it continued north right out of London! It had the name ‘River Lea’ printed next to it. The River Lea winds itself through Essex and onwards to Ware in Hertfordshire which lies out past the busy ring road of the M25.
I have only ever escaped London by car, train or aeroplane never by bike. This was going to be a first for me. The simple idea that a rivers flow could take me on a journey out of historic London and into the British countryside had me wishing the weekend would hurry itself along. I was also looking forward to having the company of my boyfriend. He was as keen as I was to break the boundaries of the M25 on the seat of a bicycle.
An early morning start and our bikes chains were whirring with joy to be outside. We pedalled the back streets to Hackney and the River Lea. The sky was an ocean blue and there was not a cloud in sight. Only armed with bottles of water, a puncture repair kit and a spot of money for refreshments we felt like tough explorers about to cycle into the unknown.
The River Lea was much wider than the canals I had cycled and it seemed to have more people enjoying its serenity. Runners, walkers, and even rowers were using this green space. Hackney riverside was busy yet the river flowed very slowly and the air was fresh on the skin. It was like we had left London already…
Cycling alongside Hackney Marshes we saw a huge carpet of grass – the largest collection of football fields in Europe. If we had timed it right we could have seen 100 football matches being played in one place on the one day!
We pedalled onwards through Walthamstow Marsh Nature Reserve, one of the last remaining marshes along the River Lea and home to a wide species of plants. The path was lined with shades of greenery and the perfume of sweet flowers. The warm breeze from pedalling brought with it an invitation for flying bugs to brush past my skin or land in my hair.
The Tottenham Marshes gave us a variety of artworks to look at and also sleepy fisherman trying to catch dinner. With our stomach’s rumbling we stopped when we saw the ”Riverside Cafe’ sign hanging over the path. Resting on a picnic table next to the Lea River, we sat in the brilliant sunshine drinking our cups of tea and happily tucking into our food.
The occasional canal boat would cruise at a snail’s pace along the River Lea. With a dash of colour and their array of flower boxes canal boats are always a welcome sight. They are a reminder of Britain’s past as they were once an effective way to transport goods around the country. Horses use to pull the canal boats through the water from the grass verge – what a sight that would have been!
People seemed to dwindle down to nothing as the river guided us like a friend alongside the high grassy hills of the water reservoirs, past the protected fences of industrial areas containing corrugated walled warehouses and timber yards. At one point the path seemed so over grown with plants it was like cycling through a mini jungle.
The more we cycled the more London became a distance memory. The River Lea eventually began to feel empty, desolate and very quiet. The river was so still, the reflections shimmered back at us. The occasional bird song and the darting movement of dragon flies made us realise there is always life about even if there are no people. Swans glided elegantly around the banks of the river and surprised us with their fluffy babies emerging from the depths of the bushes. I was enjoying the moment.
I discovered that my legs were not at all weary even after a few hours of cycling. The traffic of the M25 could be heard as it loomed ahead of us and Waltham Abbey was calling out for a visit. The river continued to part the land for its journey north and I was about to leave London’s boundary for the first time on a bicycle. I knew this day was not over just yet…